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A Man Betrayed(1941)
A small-town attorney comes to the city to investigate the murder of a friend and falls in love with the daughter of the crime ring he hopes to expose.
For more about A Man Betrayed and the A Man Betrayed Blu-ray release, see A Man Betrayed Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on April 3, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: John Wayne, Frances Dee, Edward Ellis (I), Wallace Ford, Ward Bond, Harold Huber
Director: John H. Auer
» See full cast & crew
A Man Betrayed Blu-ray Review
Maybe not betrayed, but at least horribly miscast.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, April 3, 2013
Is there a John H. Auer fan lurking somewhere at Olive Films? Auer would seem to be a rather odd choice for celebratory Blu-rays, let alone more than passing interest. A journeyman producer and director (and occasional writer), Auer managed to stay pretty much steadily employed from the thirties through the sixties while steadfastly avoiding anything approaching a mainstream blockbuster. His films are typically low rent exercises which are almost always competently shot (and occasionally even more than that), but which rarely rise to heights of visceral excitement, either inherently or in the responses they provoke in audiences. And yet suddenly were getting at least a handful of Auer films from Olive. I just reviewed Hell's Half Acre, a middling 1954 quasi-noir that is probably most notable for its (still territorial) Hawaii setting and some really fascinating casting in the supporting roles, and (as I mentioned in that review), we're about to get one of Auer's few well remembered films, City That Never Sleeps. Preceding both of those films by more than a decade is the 1941 opus A Man Betrayed, perhaps of more than passing interest for the inclusion of John Wayne in the cast. Rather funnily, Auer had made another film with this very same title, a 1936 thriller that actually shares a few elements with the 1941 film, including a stalwart hero attempting to ferret out massive corruption while being aided by a comely love interest. Otherwise, though, the two films are completely unrelated other than by dint of Auer's connection with both of them.
John Wayne is so associated with the Western genre it can be disconcerting to see him in a non-oater role. He seems spectacularly uncomfortable in a lot of these contemporary (or even historical) films where he's not perched atop a horse or taking out bad guys with his six shooter. That tendency is more than apparent in everything from Lady for a Night (another recent Olive Films Blu-ray release) to such later films as Brannigan. For whatever reason, Wayne just didn't seem to be at ease in roles like these, though to be fair in non-Western films like The Quiet Man he of course acquitted himself more than competently. Unfortunately, Wayne both figuratively and literally stumbles through much of A Man Betrayed, playing a small town lawyer who comes to the big city to investigate the mysterious death (which has been ruled a suicide) of his best buddy.
A Man Betrayed actually starts with a well done sequence that shows that Auer had good instincts, even if his budgets sometimes didn't allow him to fully exploit them. We're introduced to the Club Inferno, a nightclub den of iniquity, courtesy of some handbills being passed out by an old man who, a generation later, might have been right at home in a Fellini film. The camera tracks one of these handbills as its doused by a torrential downpour. Suddenly a man comes stumbling out of the nighclub. Is he drunk? He seems to be attracting considerable interest from some of the nightclub staff, even if the public at large seems strangely nonplussed by the sight of the guy staggering through heavy traffic. And then in a wonderful little bit of hyperbole, the man leans against a lamppost (a fantastic little tip of the hat to one of the better known clichés with regard to drunks out in public), at which point a violent bolt of lightning hits the post (and the man), causing his grisly demise. It's only upon further inspection that a policeman discovers the man had actually been shot, which in turn leads a nearby newspaper reporter to rush to his paper to write up what will no doubt be a blockbuster story.
It's at this point that the film detours into what will become regular attempts at broad comedy. It turns out the newspaper editor really wants to be a master gardener, and is obsessed with reading reports about how to grow champion flowers. He therefore couldn't care less about the story of the shooting victim, something that makes a quick visit by local political kingpin Tom Cameron (Edward Ellis), who also happens to be the brains behind both the Club Inferno as well as the local crime syndicate. Cameron, uptight over what might be bad publicity right as elections are nearing, "suggests" that the shooting was actually a suicide due to the young man having lost all of his money gambling at the Club Inferno. And that sparks the interest of the victim's best friend, Lynn Hollister (John Wayne), who shows up to investigate. A visit to Cameron's house has its own detour when Cameron's daughter Sabra (Frances Dee) tells her father that she'll take over dealing with Lynn and make sure he doesn't cause any trouble. Can true romance be far behind?
The rest of the film follows the on again, off again love antics of Lynn and Sabra as Lynn also attempts to ferret out what really happened to his best buddy. A Man Betrayed is an extremely curious little film that doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. Is it basically a romantic comedy with a bit of mystery thrown in, a la the old Thin Man series? Or is it an exposé of massive corruption that also has a love angle as a sidebar? The film veers uneasily between melodrama and some fairly inept comedy, leaving the audience off balance and depriving the story of any real momentum or excitement.
Once again the main interest here is in the supporting cast, including a completely bizarre turn by Ward Bond playing the mentally defective brother of one of the main culprits. Bond, who some may remember as the stalwart star of the long running Western series Wagon Train, here plays a kind of knock off Lennie from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, a man-child whose love of "pretty things" has led to murderous disaster. It's a frankly weird role that Bond does rather well with. Dee is quite vivacious in the film doing a sort of Katharine Hepburn Bringing Up Baby spoiled heiress part. In one of the film's perhaps unintentionally Freudian subtexts, Dee's Sabra goes around repeatedly calling her father "Darling" (which is or course pronounce "Dah-ling"), while Tom in turn always calls his daughter "Baby".
Ultiamtely, though, it doesn't matter if A Man Betrayed thinks of itself as a comedy or a mystery, for it really never musters the courage of its convictions in either genre. The comedy is more or less completely flat, and the mystery element is bungled to the point of ridiculousness, especially in the closing moments when (courtesy of the ever popular montage of newspaper headlines), an insane number of plot points are dealt with, some in a rather cavalier fashion (without spoiling any major plot points, Tom Cameron has been shown to be a morally ambiguous character at best, but suddenly all is forgiven, seemingly for no other reason than that it lets Lynn and Sabra move on to domestic bliss without the niggling qualm of a jailed relative).
Republic Pictures obviously wanted to make John Wayne a viable quantity in genres other than Westerns, but lackluster efforts like A Man Betrayed probably consigned Wayne more than ever to doing cowboy roles. One can almost feel how ill at ease The Duke was in pictures like this, and it makes watching them doubly uncomfortable for the audience.
A Man Betrayed Blu-ray, Video Quality
A Man Betrayed is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.37:1. Things get off to a pretty rough start through the Republic Pictures logo and the credits (interestingly, the credits are for a re-release, as evidenced by some brief appended info that appears in the upper right corner of the frame). However, once the film proper gets underway, things are in much better condition, though the elements here have quite a few specks and flecks in attendance (clearly visible in several of the screenshots accompanying this review). Contrast is fairly strong throughout this presentation, though the film tends to offer variable sharpness, as if this had perhaps been cobbled together from different sources.
A Man Betrayed Blu-ray, Audio Quality
A Man Betrayed's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track has some quite noticeable damage, including several loud pops and cracks and in a couple of instances, a complete lack of audio for a second or two (you'll hear this quite noticeably at the beginning of the first scene featuring Wayne and Dee). No actual dialogue is lost, however, so given reasonable expectations, most of these issues are fairly easy to tolerate. Fidelity is okay if not outstanding, with a typically boxy sound that's especially noticeable in large crowd scenes (where the track almost sounds slightly phased at times), as well as in the underscore.
A Man Betrayed Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
No supplements are offered on this Blu-ray disc.
A Man Betrayed Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A Man Betrayed is fitfully entertaining almost in spite of itself, but it's a pretty haphazard mash up of ideas and genres that never really takes off as either a comedy or a mystery thriller. Wayne is palpably uncomfortable throughout much of this film, making his supposed comedy bits almost unbearably difficult to watch at times. Dee is much better, vivacious and flirtatious and quite a bit of fun, although the kind of questionable subtext with her father may cause some jaws to drop. The most interesting thing about this film is the completely peculiar characterization by Ward Bond, certainly one of the most unusual in the actor's long and varied career.
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